The Eighties Club
The Politics and Pop Culture of the 1980s
Featured Series (G)
 Gimme A Break
(NBC, 1981-1987)

        Promotional ad, TV Guide, 5 October 1981

Nell Harper
Nell Carter
Chief Carl Kanisky
Dolph Sweet (1981-1985)
Katie Kanisky
Kari Michaelson (1981-1986)
Julie Kanisky Maxwell
Lauri Hendler (1981-1986)
Samantha "Sam" Kanisky
Lara Jill Miller
Officer Ralph Simpson
Howard Morton (1981-1986)
Grandpa Stanley Kanisky
John Hoyt (1982-1987)
Grandma Mildred Kanisky
Jane Dulo (1982-1983)
Uncle Ed Kanisky
Pete Schrum (1982-1983)
Joey Donovan
Joey Lawrence (1983-1987)
Addy Wilson
Telma Hopkins (1984-1987)
Jonathan Maxwell
Jonathan Silverman (1984-1986)
Matthew Donovan
Matthew Lawrence (1986-1987)
Paul Sand (1986-1987)
Maybelle Harper
Rosetta LeNoire (1986-1987)
Maggie O'Brien
Rosie O'Donnell (1986-1987)

This successful half-hour sitcom was a showcase for the considerable talents of Nell Carter.  Born in Alabama (September 13, 1948), Carter went to New York at age 19, became a cabaret singer, and won a Tony Award for her stage performance in 1978's Ain't Misbehavin'. (She would garner an Emmy Award for reprising that  role in the 1982 TV version.) In Gimme A Break she played Nell Harper, housekeeper for Police Chief Carl Kanisky (Dolph Sweet), whose wife had recently died, leaving him with three daughters -- Katie, Julie and Samantha. It was up to Nell to keep order in a turbulent household, helping the often bewildered Kanisky cope with raising three girls, and becoming, in effect, the trio's surrogate mom.

It was largely Carter's captivating personality that propelled the series through its six-season run. Apart from Lara Jill Miller, she was the only original cast member remaining when the last episode aired on 17 May 1987. Dolph Sweet died of cancer shortly after filming the fourth season's final installment. His place as "man of the house" was taken by Jonathan Maxwell (Jonathan Silverman), who had married Julie (Lauri Hendler). Joey, an orphan, had joined the cast in 1983, and when Katie and Julie left the show at the end of the fifth season, Nell moved to New York with Joey and Grandpa and her best friend Addy. By then the series was so far removed from it's original premise that it lasted only one more season.

Nell Carter had a tragic childhood -- at age two she witnessed her father's death and at 16 she was raped. "Gimme A Break ran for six years and gave me the kind of money and freedom I'd dreamed would make me happy," she said in an 1994 interview for People magazine. "It didn't. Nor had winning the Tony for Ain't Misbehavin' in 1978. The problem was my personal life." It was at the 1978 Tony Awards show that another celebrity introduced Carter to cocaine. She struggled with this addiction -- as well as with alcoholism and a weight problem -- throughout her years on the sitcom. She was admitted into treatment hospitals on several occasions. In 1986 she finally kicked the habit. She went on to star in another sitcom, Hangin' With Mr. Cooper, in the 1990s. After suffering from two aneurysms, she quit drinking. And in 1999 she starred in a TV movie, Sealed With A Kiss as well as a feature film, Special Delivery.

Kari Michaelson, who played Katie, made her professional debut in an off-Broadway production of Gypsy at age five. Her parents were both professional performers, her father a singer and her mother a dancer. When the family moved to California, Kari attended Beverly Hills High School and become active in its drama department. During the Eighties she made numerous TV guest appearances in shows such as Hart To Hart and Full House, and costarred with Gary Coleman in the 1983 TV movie The Kid With A 2000 IQ. In 1999 she became cohost of KVEN's "Real People" program, broadcast from Ventura, California. Lara Jill Miller, who grew up in front of a nationwide audience as the youngest Kanisky daughter, Samantha, broke into show business at age ten in a Broadway revival of The Music Man. Following her six years on Gimme A Break, Lara attended N.Y.U. (where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa and Magna Cum Laude) and Fordham University School of Law. While practicing law in Manhattan, she appeared in celebrity tennis tournaments and occasionally performed in such productions as Jerry Finnegan's Sister and Barefoot in the Park.

 The Golden Girls
(NBC, 1985-1992)

 Estelle Getty, Bea Arthur, Betty White and Rue McClanahan

Dorothy Zbornak
Bea Arthur
Rose Nylund
Betty White
Blanche Devereaux
Rue McClanahan
Sophia Petrillo
Estelle Getty

Premiering September 14, 1985 on NBC, The Golden Girls became one of the classiest and funniest sitcoms of the decade, lasting seven seasons, with an equally successful spin-off, Empty Nest, which premiered in October 1988.  The Golden Girls focused on four older women -- Dorothy Sbornak (Bea Arthur), a level-headed Brooklyn-born substitute teacher who divorced her wayward husband after 38 years of marriage; Rose Nylund (Betty White), the naive but loveable widow whose interminable stories about life in her hometown of St. Olaf, Minnesota drove the other girls to distraction; Blanche Devereaux (Rue McClanahan), the promiscuous sexpot whose goal was to date a new man every week; and Sophie Petrillo (Estelle Getty), Dorothy's sharp-tongued, Sicilian-born mother.  The four lived together in a Blanche's suburban Miami home
and were best friends even though they were constantly getting on one another's nerves.

All four actresses possess superb comedic talent, and they had consistently great scripts to work with -- the show's writers were some of the most gifted in the business.  The Golden Girls won numerous awards: Bea Arthur earned an Emmy for Lead Actress/Comedy in 1988; Estelle Getty won for Supporting Actress in 1988; Betty White won for Lead Actress in 1986; and Rue McClanahan won in that category in 1987.  In addition, The Golden Girls won the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series in 1986 and 1987, and garnered several Golden Globe awards, as well.  (Note: Bea Arthur co-starred with Rue McClanahan in the hit Seventies sitcom, Maude.)

Best Lines
Rose (on the death of her husband, Charlie, while they made love): "I thought it was funny when he kept saying, 'I'm going!...I'm going!...."

Dorothy (about Blanche): "Blanche could be in a coma but put a man within five miles of her and she'd roll over and shave her legs."

Rose: "I don't understand."
Dorothy: "You should have that printed on a t-shirt."

Blanche: "How does this dress look on me?"
Sophie: "What's the difference?  In a half hour it'll be on the floor next to an empty bottle of Jack Daniels."

Dorothy: "How long did you want to have sex after George died?"
Sophie: "Till the paramedics came."

Rose: "Can I ask a dumb question?"
Dorothy: "Like no one else."

Blanche (to Dorothy): "Don't you ever get a nosebleed from taking the
high road all the time?"

Blanche: "Who knows my body better than I do?"
Sophie: "Any man in Miami not attached to a woman or a respirator."

Series Highlights
Isn't It Romantic? (11/8/86)
A lesbian friend of  Dorothy's pay a visit and ends up falling for Rose. (Emmy to Terry Hughes for Outstanding Writing/Comedy).
Love, Rose (12/13/86)
Rose puts out a personal ad and starts getting letters.  What she doesn't know is that they're being penned by Dorothy and Blanche, who are trying to make her feel better about herself.
To Catch A  Neighbor (20 March 1987)
The girls have to play host to two police detectives who are staking out the neighbors, suspected of dealing in stolen gems.
Three On A Couch (12/2/87)
The girls hope a therapist will help them find a way to stop their constant arguing.  But the therapist decides that they are totally incompatible.
Valentine's Day (2/10/89)
While the girls bemoan a dateless Valentine's Day and reminisce about the a more romantic past, Sophie gets a date with none other than Julio Iglesias.
Love Under the Big Top (10/3/89)
Rose tries to save the dolphins while Dorothy is being pursued by a lawyer who wants to be a clown (Dick Van Dyke).
Comedy of Errors (11/21/89)
Blanche decides to seduce a tax auditor -- until she finds out it's a woman; Dorothy pursues her dream of becoming a stand-up comic.

 The Greatest American Hero
(ABC, 1981-1983)

Ralph Hinkley (Hanley).....William Katt
Bill Maxwell.....Robert Culp
Pam Davidson.....Connie Sellecca
Tony Villicana.....Michael Pare
Rhonda Blake.....Faye Grant
Cyler Johnson.....Jesse D. Goins
Rodriguez.....Don Cervantes
Kevin Hinkley.....Brandon Williams (1981)

Ralph Hinkley, a high school teacher, is embarked on a field trip in the desert when his car his drawn off the road by a mysterious force. He is visited by aliens (the "greenguys"), who give him a special suit that endows him with superhuman powers. The suit comes with an instruction manual, but Ralph promptly loses it. He suffers one mishap after another (like crashing into walls) as he tries to master the suit's powers. Ralph is teamed up with an FBI agent named Bill Maxwell, who persists in recruiting the reluctant superhero for dangerous missions. Week in and week out, Ralph finds himself saving the world from the focus of evil. At the same time he tries to maintain a relationship with the beautiful Pam Davidson. And some kids from his education class -- Tony, Rhonda, Cyler and Rodriguez -- are sometimes involved in Ralph's missions. Ralph's son by a previous mission, Kevin, also appeared in early episodes.
Airing on ABC from 1981-83, The Greatest American Hero became a popular, hour-long comedy-action series thanks in large part to a likeable cast. William Katt (Ralph), was the son of actress Barbara Hale, and was perhaps best known prior to this series for his role as the Sundance Kid in Butch and Sundance: The Early Days (1977). Robert Culp (Maxwell) was a veteran of the '60s TV series I Spy, while Connie Sellecca (Pam) would go on to the successful '80s drama Hotel after Greatest American Hero ended its two-year run. (A total of 45 episodes were filmed.)

8" Great American Hero action figures

Series Highlights
Pilot (3.18.81): Schoolteacher Ralph Hinkley is given a suit that endows him with superhuman powers, which he uses to help FBI Agent Bill Maxwell foil a plot to overthrow the U.S. government.
Here's Looking At You, Kid (4.1.81): Maxwell recruits Ralph to search for a missing jet fighter, but Ralph has his own problems -- chiefly meeting Pam's parents for the first time.
Saturday on Sunset Boulevard (4.8.81): Maxwell flunks a polygraph test and could lose his job with the FBI because of his determination to keep Ralph and the suit a secret.
The Best Desk Scenario (5.13.81): Maxwell is passed over for promotion and considers quitting the FBI while Ralph tries to rescue Pam from mobsters.
Operation Spoilsport (11.11.81): Ralph and Maxwell try to prevent a nuclear weapons launch triggered by computer malfunction.
Don't Mess Around With Jim (11.18.81): A billionaire threatens to expose the secret of the suit unless Ralph helps him.
The Beast in the Black (12.9.81): Ralph must use all the superhuman powers at his command to prevent an evil spirit from possessing Maxwell.
Plague (1.6.82): Ralph is injured while trying to foil a train hijacking and suffers partial amnesia.
The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (2.24.82): While vacationing in the Virgin Islands, Ralph rescues the survivor of a yacht hijacking and hears rumors of a sea monster.
Captain Bellybuster and the Speed Factory (4.7.82): While tracking down drug runners, Ralph gets unsolicited help from Captain Bellybuster and finds himself on the front page of a tabloid.
Divorce Venusian Style (10.29.82): A group of neo-Nazis get their hands on the suit, and the greenguys return to save Ralph's life.
The Greatest American Heroine (n.d.): The secret of the suit becomes public knowledge and all the media attention goes to Ralph's head, so the greenguys tell him he must give the suit to someone else.

Following the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan the name of Katt's character was changed to Ralph Hanley, since the would-be assassin's name was Hinckley. (Ralph's name was switched back to Hinkley for the second season.)
The series' producers survived a lawsuit filed by DC Comics, which claimed that the Greatest American Hero was a ripoff of their property, Superman. This argument failed to convince the court.
The theme song, "The Greatest American Hero (Believe It Or Not)" was written by Mike Post and Stephen Geyer; sung by Joey Scarbury, it went to #1 on Billboard's Top 100 chart in August 1981.
A pilot episode was made for a spin-off, "The Greatest American Heroine," when, in 1986, NBC honcho Brandon Tartikoff showed interest in resurrecting the concept. William Katt wasn't interested, so Mary Ellen Stuart was cast as Holly Hathaway, the suit's new owner. Robert Culp reprised his role as Bill Maxwell.
In 1997, Tim Burton (Batman) directed a feature film, The Greatest American Hero, starring Gary Oldman as Ralph Hinkley and Malcolm McDowell as Bill Maxwell.